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October 18, 2012 9:24 am

Preparing for Future Crisis, Israel Builds Army of International Emergency Volunteers

avatar by Anav Silverman / Tazpit News Agency

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International volunteers learn of Israel's ambulance service operations during an EVP training session. Photo: Tazpit News Agency.

Of the number of ways to support Israel, the Emergency Volunteer Project (EVP) is perhaps one of the most uniquely resourceful. Established in 2007, the non-profit organization recruits and trains volunteers from abroad to assist Israel as emergency first responders. Both Christians and Jews participate in the training programs which are held in Israel and across the United States, with Christians making up 80 percent of the volunteers.

Texas has the largest EVP chapter according to Eitan Chernoff, a certified medic and Israeli spokesperson for EVP.  Many participants hear of the EVP program by word of mouth, through their churches, or via the Internet.

“There are 500 American volunteers who have undergone emergency response training, and are ready to assist Israel the moment that help is needed in whatever crisis or disaster.  This could mean war or natural disasters like earthquakes or fires,” said Chernoff.

Following the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Chernoff explained that close friends of his realized that Israel’s emergency response resources were extremely limited. During the war, those with emergency response training were the IDF soldiers called to stop the thousands of rocket attacks in the north and therefore could not act in the emergency response capacity.

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“In times of emergency disasters, most countries have a contingency plan that involves outside resources.  Israel’s situation is unique in that it does not have that kind of relationship with her regional neighbors. Therefore EVP was created as a solution for the massive shortage in man power,” said Chernoff.

The availability of EVP volunteers to assist Israel in times of crises was highlighted during the Carmel forest fire in 2010.  “There were 100 American volunteer firefighters, based mostly in Texas and New York who had completed EVP qualification courses for Israeli firefighting guidelines, that were ready to fly out to Israel.  We put 40 on standby, but at that point, Israel no longer needed them.”

This past week, EVP held an intensive week-long training program for 50 volunteers hailing from the United States, Mexico, England, and New Zealand. Many were community volunteers, firefighters, medical personnel, and search and rescue experts who received training in Israeli methods and protocols from professional instructors and crews.  Sessions also included classes in Israeli culture and how Israeli emergency personnel operate during terrorist attacks.

Much of the training was based in Jerusalem’s Magen David Adom (MDA) station, where participants learned how the MDA functions as Israel’s national provider in medical, disaster, ambulance and blood bank services.

“It’s different from the way emergency response functions in the US,” Lela, a nurse from Kansas City, Missouri told Tazpit News Agency.

“The response time is much quicker in Israel but with limited human resources—there are only 1,200 paid firemen in the entire country! Israel also deals with terrorism and conflict, which are obviously quite different from the type of crises we deal with in the United States,” she said.

For Wade Baker of Arkansas, a trainer in search and rescue, the EVP program was “an amazing opportunity to learn how Israel acts during emergency response.”  “Israel has an international reputation in emergency and aid response—it always and immediately reaches out, even to nations that are hostile to her. I believe it’s our turn to help out the Jewish nation,” he stated.

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